For the next few months, life went on surprisingly well.
Eneizar was mostly gone and Iaosur found a great liking in Mark. Mehrdir didn’t appear after her dream and neither did Asmodeus. Ezekiel and Chen were deep into their business at school so that left Zoe all alone. Even Andrew was stalking Jake, though he preferred the term: intense research of his new life.
Finally, Zoe could feel again how it was to be normal. That was the main reason she went out shopping. From big brand stores and small antique places she turned towards the supermarket; it has been a very long time since she last entered one.
She went through the stalls and bent to look at some new brand of cereals, so preoccupied that she didn’t realize someone was behind her. When she got up, she accidentally pushed the man behind her into the shelf.
She jumped in surprise and turned around. Before anything, she checked if he was matter or spirit by poking his chest. Thinking that maybe that changed after her trip to Hell, she checked him out thoroughly.
“Are you really checking me out after you pushed me into the shelf? You broke my nose!”
He wasn’t a ghost.
“I’m really sorry,”
In the end, she got him some medicine and helped him stuck cotton in his nostrils.
“Is that how you meet new people?”
Zoe was really sorry and that never happened before. Actually, it did happen before but it was usually caused by Mehrdir and she was the one to take the blame.
“I’m joking,” He added fast when he saw her frown.
“I know. It’s just- it never happened before under these circumstances.”
The boy raised an eyebrow and stared at her curiously.
“So it did happen before, huh?” She realized what she said and froze, “It’s alright. I’m not judging.” He mumbled, eyeing her.
“I-“ She didn’t have anything to say. The truth was very complicated.
“Anyway, I’m opening a pastry shop around here. Just at the corner, actually. It will be mainly about desserts and things like that,”
“I know what a pastries are.” She chuckled.
She noticed his ears were getting red. He was cute and a pastry chef? That was just adding more good points for him.
“Would you like to check it out before the grand opening?” She blinked and pointed at herself.
“Me?” Zoe pointed at herself questioningly, “Yes!” She realized she sounded a little too excited and blushed.
He smiled and for a moment, she swore he was like an older version of Ezekiel. It was both weird and good, because he wasn’t Ezekiel so she wouldn’t feel weird liking him too much yet at the same time she could trust him because they emanate the same aura.
“Great. Let’s meet tomorrow-“ He trailed and looked around for a good meeting spot. "–actually, let’s meet here.” She agreed. “At lunch is alright?” She nodded happily. “Ok then.” He got up and started to walk up the street when she remembered something.
“My name is Zoe!” She shouted after him.
“I’m Daniel!” He shouted back and waved.
She chuckled and waved back. The brunette sighed dreamily and licked her lips. When she turned her head towards what was in front of the bench, she noticed the big red sign. Her smile cracked; it was a Love Hotel.
“Why are you happy?” When she got home, she was radiating.
Throughout the day, no matter what the guys would do was brushed off. Zoe wasn’t that kind of person; she was very easy to annoy, mostly when one of them would tease her about Mehrdir but that was unimportant today. Fuck Mehrdir! She had someone else in the picture.
“She’s freaking me out~” Iaosur sung, rubbing his legs excitedly.
“Truthfully, she’s freaking me out too.”
Even Chen was perplexed. When he barged in her apartment like it was his home, she didn’t even look at him. She was happily humming some happy tune.
“What’s next? Vomiting rainbows and should we expect some unicorn to barge in through the toilet?” Chen continued, Eneizar and Iaosur nodding along.
“Hey, what’s going on?” Ezekiel asked, surprised by the three boys sitting on the couch in a straight line, staring at Zoe’s door. “Should I be worried?” They nodded, “Is it that bad?” They nodded again.
Ezekiel entered Zoe’s room warily. He looked to the left and right but didn’t find anything disastrous; only saw her, standing at her desk. She was working with a bright smile on her face and a positive feel around her- wait.
“What are you doing?”
She looked at her friend and shrugged, “Working. I have to draw the sequel.”
Ezekiel walked behind her and leaned over her shoulder. What he saw scared him.
She took that as a compliment even though Ezekiel didn’t intend to make it that way.
“Did something happen today? Something unrelated to what’s been happening to you for the past 26 years?”
She looked to the side and smirked, “What if it did?”
Ezekiel’s eyes widened. That took him off guard.
“Wha-Wh-Well, I guess that’s good?” He stumbled on his words.
He didn’t know how to react. She’s always been this weird and overly confident girl that was happy but not radiating happiness; the point was, she wasn't genuinely happy, ever.
“Did you meet someone?”
“Maybe,” She started, rolling around and staring at him with a mischievous glint in her eyes, “I met someone new. Someone human; someone who is very, very handsome and nice and-“
“How do you know he’s human?” Ezekiel added, her whole face falling.
Ezekiel sighed and sat on the bed. He couldn’t help but fall back and cuddle into it; the effect of that puffy bed was huge.
“I mean exactly what I say. How do you know he’s human? You said it yourself, the best place to hide is in the open.” Ezekiel continued.
Her happiness dropped considerably. She sighed and closed her eyes for a moment
“I hate you.”
Zoe didn’t mean it but he really destroyed her mood.
For the rest of the day, which wasn’t a lot, she went back to being paranoid. She hated how Ezekiel barged in her room and said what he said. Zoe couldn’t concentrate anymore on work and let it aside, jumping on the bed and rolling around groaning in annoyance.
“This isn’t the way I wanted to meet you.”
That was a voice she hasn't heard before; a voice that sounded very clear yet slurred at the end, making him seem sleazy. Zoe rolled on her back and froze.
“Don’t tell me you’re my new babysitter.”
Whoever he was, he was dressed in a simple beige long sleeved shirt and a pair of pants that seemed worn out and outdated. He didn’t seem to have a century and didn’t seem to be a demon in the first place. What was remotely appealing about him was his face: he had dark brown hair with white highlights and different coloured eyes, one bright blue and one white.
“I’m not your babysitter.” His voice was husky, like he just woke up a few minutes ago.
Zoe couldn't help but tilt her head to the side and wonder what was that strange demon doing in her house and who was he working for.
“Why are you here then? And who are you?”
He blinked and took a step forward, “I’m Gakhas, Level B Sloth Demon.”
That made a lot of sense because he looked lazy and talked lazily.
“I work under Belphegor. I am not here to be your babysitter. I think my master wants me to be the one babysat by you.” He continued, digging his hands deep into his front pockets, looking like he wanted to be anywhere but there.
Zoe frowned. She had to what?
Eneizar and Iaosur were more than happy when Gakhas walked out of her room, giggling between themselves like two high school girls. Chen and Ezekiel were curious.
“Who’s he?” Chen asked, scanning the new and very weird face. Those eyes were impossible to miss.
“My baby to sit,” Not even Chen understood what she meant so she pointed at the vanity demon,“Eneizar, explain.”
“This little guy here is Gakhas. He’s under Belphegor so he’s the definition of laziness. However, don’t be fooled. Just because he is lazy doesn’t mean he is inoffensive. He has a personality that makes demons underestimate him. I think Bel wants you to teach him one or two things,” The demon started, getting up and wrapping a hand loosely around the sloth demon.
Gakhas scoffed and shrugged Eneizar’s hand off him.
“Actually, I am grounded. I’ve been exiled by Belial because I almost sent Lucifer to Neverland and locked him in there.” He smiled sarcastically and sat on the couch, raising his legs and placing them on the coffee table.
The rest were speechless. Eneizar was blinking quickly in shock while Iaosur was trying not to laugh; Ezekiel and Chen were still registering the information. Zoe walked to Gakhas and pushed his legs off her table before she leaned in and looked straight into his eyes.
“I don’t give a fuck who you are and what you can do. This is my house. I have my rules. If you disobey them, Belial will be the last thing you will worry about.” She threatened, though it didn't seem imposing at all.
Gakhas blinked innocently before he leaned closer and touched her nose with his.
“Am I bothered?” She furrowed her eyebrows in confusion which only made him continue, “Does it look like I am bothered by your threat?”
She leaned back a little, confused.
“That’s because I ain’t bothered to bother.” He smiled, though it didn’t reach his eyes nor looked remotely real, “Now let’s be good friends and not bother each other.” He poked her cheek and disappeared.
Zoe remained in the same position, still blown away by that little demon.
“You got owned!” Iaosur exclaimed, raising his hand in that manner victorious teenagers do, only making Eneizar look at him questioningly.
“Where the heck did you hear that expression?”
They started to talk about expressions and what Iaosur learned from humans but Zoe couldn’t hear them; she could only hear Gakhas’ voice in her head, echoing the same words he just spoke.
“Are you alright?”
Ezekiel was the first who moved next to her. He seemed to have recovered after what he just witnessed.
“I think we all saw why he got exiled by Belial.”
But Ezekiel couldn’t help but give Gakhas congratulations. Someone like that was very good around Zoe; he was blunt and couldn't give a crap about her or anyone else.
“Wasn't that in a sketch?” She trailed, thinking again where she heard those words before.
Ezekiel raised an eyebrow and placed his feet on the coffee table. Zoe instantly grabbed his thigh tightly, digging her nails in, making him flinch in pain. He dropped his legs back on the carpet and scoffed. Someone like Gakhas was definitely going to make a difference.
The next day, Zoe woke up with a good feeling. She knew that her date was going to be awesome no matter what and she was going to make sure she wasn’t going to ask Daniel anything about his past. What she doesn’t know can’t hurt her, in the end.
She ate cereals and hurried into the bathroom to do her makeup and change. Ezekiel and Chen were at school while Eneizar and Iaosur were not there and she wasn’t particularly interested where they went. She was all alone and that simple thought made her feel all tingly...Until she opened the door to the bathroom and met a pair of judging eyes.
“What are you doing here?”
Gakhas looked at her from head to toe before he turned his back on her; of course, that didn’t mean he wasn’t still inspecting her from the corner of his eye.
“I’ve been exiled, remember?” He mumbled, his voice sounding a bit lighter than yesterday.
Zoe was going through a huge inner battle at the sight of him. She wanted to sent him back to Hell but at the same time, he was reminding her of Mehrdir when he first appeared into her life.
“I have no place to go but here,” he continued, rubbing the back of his neck.
“Should that make me feel some kind of honor?” The young commander asked and entered her room. She already changed into the dress but she still needed to curl her hair and make herself look cute.
“Shouldn’t you have pride?” She raised an eyebrow, patiently waiting for the next line, “You’re getting all dressed up for something that may or may not be a ‘date’,” He even took care to show the quoting signs on the last word.
“What’s your point?”
Gakhas entered her room and put his hands deep into his jeans' front pockets, “Why do you have to get all prettied up?”
“Because that’s what girls do. I don’t care if this is a date or not and I don’t care where will this lead me. What I care about is the simple gesture of inviting me out. It’s not the boy or the date itself that makes a girl dress up; it’s the mere thought that she has to look pretty. It’s pride.”
The male rolled his eyes and jumped on her bed, his eyes widening when he realized how soft and cuddly it was. He started to roll back and forth in it and enjoy himself, like a kid.
“Why did you come here? You could have gone anywhere in the world.”
He stopped and rolled forth, in order to see her better, “Because I’m safe here.”
She bit her lip and tried to think about nice things. His reason wasn’t exactly helpful. She didn’t need more demons around.
“And because this is where you live. You’ve been underestimated from the moment you were born. Eneizar was right. Demons underestimate my power just because I’m lazy. I knew you’d understand me.” He took a sudden emotional tone, making her glance at him in the mirror.
“So Belphegor didn’t send you here,”
He hummed and rolled closer to the pillows, “When you’re exiled from Hell, it’s like you’re on probation. There’s someone who’s watching you and taking notes. That’s what fairies usually do. But fairies would never say anything bad if I’d have the commander as my guardian~” He sung, rolling towards his left once.
“So now I’m your guardian. But only because you know I wouldn’t say anything to you and leave you alone. You’re lazy so you don’t do much,”
“Au contraire. My mind works fast. Just because I stay in bed, doesn’t mean I’m not doing anything. While I am here, someplace else someone sins. Humans don’t need anything else but a nudge. Laziness is the easiest sin a human can make and they all do it.”
She stared at him and noticed the way he was talking was interesting. He was a very complex character, it seemed.
“Don’t think too much and don’t touch him. Yes. That’s a good plan,” She took a deep breath and encouraged herself.
Zoe was almost the meeting spot and she could already see someone waiting there already; he was already there.
“Am I late?” She wandered out loud.
His eyes widened and he shook his head furiously.
“No! No, I just arrived early,”
They stared at each other for a few minutes and she gulped. His eyes didn’t seem to hide any evil and she wasn't sure if meeting him and going out with him would cause him the same troubles as it did to Ezekiel
“Are you ready?” He asked, his eyes sparkling strangely in the sun. She smiled and nodded, following him down the road.
“So, what do you do for a living?”
Zoe hated that question but she had to respond.
“I draw.” That was still too vague so she added more, “I’m a webtoon artist,”
His eyes enlightened with this sudden childishness, making her smile widen.
“I love webtoons. Do you have something big or just small projects?”
“Have you heard of Fallen?”
He hummed and rubbed his chin, “It’s that webtoon about a fallen angel, right? But it’s already over, sadly. It had a certain charm,”He trailed, unaware of Zoe's blushing cheeks.
“I wrote and drew it; Fallen, I mean,”
His eyes widened in surprise making her blush even more, feeling like a ticking bomb of embarrassment.
“Really? Wow. That is a good plot, even if it’s a little dark. I never expected a girl to create something like that,”
She chuckled and rubbed her neck, “Me neither. But it came in my mind and I just went with the flow," The girl coughed and tried to look as good as she could.
Gakhas’ words were echoing in her mind. Pride. She must keep her pride.
“I’m glad you’re a fan,”
He winked, which not one man has done before.
“I only cook, unfortunately."
“But I’m sure you cook well. I can’t cook to save my life,”
“All girls can cook. It only matters how much they want to impress with their cooking skills but they have it in their blood. They can do it if they try.” He chuckled.
Zoe bit her lower lip and nodded, fidgeting nervously. That was a good encouragement but with so many entities that don't eat, she never got into cooking and doesn't feel the urge to.
When they arrived in front of the store, she never expected to be intensely watched by a tall and incredibly weird guy across the street. He was staring at them with a smirk. It looked almost like-
“Would you like to try something?” She got distracted by Daniel.
When she glanced behind, the guy was gone.
"Sure," She responded, still looking over her shoulder just in case, and followed him in the back of the store.
Dan had a kitchen ready and it seemed he wanted to make something special for her.
"What's your favourite flavour?" He asked as soon as he entered the backdoor.
"Mint." She responded quickly, not thinking twice.
He stopped and looked curiously at her, startling her.
"Most people would go with chocolate or vanilla. You went with mint. It's rare,"
Zoe licked her lips and started to fidget again. She had a feeling she will do that a lot.
"So, tell me about you,"
While he was cooking what seemed to be a small cake, she sat on the closest counter and watched him. It was quite attractive.
"I come from a normal family and am an only child. I don't have anything interesting to boast about, truthfully."
"What about your job? That is interesting enough."
"It's fantasy. I always had an interest in mythology and all these things about the underworld," She laughed nervously.
He nodded along while grabbing the milk and mixing it with eggs.
"So you were curious what happens after we die?" He asked curiously.
"Yes. I was curious where I was going to end up."
Truthfully, she never expected to find that out so fast. Moreover, it wasn't the happy and white place; it was the red paradise with nothing but anger and sufferance.
"And? Are you still curious about that?"
She stared at the wall and thought how to respond.
"I think I don't have a choice. It's so complicated and nothing I do will change my fate. I realized that it's better not to fight the flood and just let yourself be taken by it."
She was talking about her life and everything going on at the moment. He kind of understood that but his imagination wasn't going overboard.
"I don't want to know anything about that, truthfully. I just want to live and enjoy everything life has to offer. I don't want to regret anything,"
Zoe looked at him and inspected him through a different point of view. He was definitely human but she had to check therefore, she touched his arm, by coincidence.
"We should stop talking about grim stuff," Zoe added, making the touch seem inoffensive.
He laughed and nodded. Zoe sighed in relief when nothing happened; he wasn't even haunted. Daniel was a normal man, thankfully.
In the end, he prepared parfait. She loved it mostly because it had mint and chocolate chips and it was a delicacy for her tongue.
"How is it?" She gave him two thumbs up, "Good. I originally thought it's going to be really bad since I don't cook desserts."
"You don't cook?"
"I do cook but not desserts. My friend does that. We're partners in crime and business. I make pastries. It's a little different."
She registered the information and nodded.
"So that is your job?"
Dan scratched his cheek and smiled sheepishly, "Kind of. I did finish a cooking school but that's not exactly what I originally wanted to do in life. I wanted to be a doctor at first."
"Isn't that what everyone wants to become when they are kids?"
Dan nodded, "True. But I actually went along with it and finished med school. I just had a change of heart at some point and gave up."
"Did a patient die?"
His eyes widened and he shook his head quickly, "No, no. I just realized it's a lot of emotional pressure. I couldn't detach myself from what I was seeing there every day."
She narrowed her eyes at the parfait, remembering her time spent in hospital; way too much time.
"I hate hospitals but somehow, I always end up there. I was in a coma for a while," She mumbled, making him froze. "But I'm in perfect condition now," She tried to end it smoothly mostly because she didn't need his pity.
He wasn't even half aware of what she was.
"Not many have that luck. I'm glad you are alive and well. I'm also glad you kind of pushed me back in the market." He added, laughing it off with a faint pink colouring his cheeks.
He was being really kind and there she was, hiding a lot of things.